Charles Abugre, head of policy and advocacy at Christian Aid, a UK charity, discussing the historical legacy of Kwame Nkrumah a few years ago said, ‘dead politicians are different things to different people. Both their good and their wrong define the goal posts and hence the playing fields upon which the survivors take their positions in society. Their good is usurped, their failures exhumed and magnified as appropriate and in accordance with creed. It is in the nature of humanity to review the past, for in doing so we not only define our own essence but also seek to learn lessons if we genuinely desire to do so.’
I was in my early teens when Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA-inspired military coup in February 1966. The military regime and the civilian government that ruled Ghana in the ensuing six years embarked on a relentless misinformation drive that mercilessly pilloried Nkrumah. Even the so-called democratically elected administration of Kofi Busia went as far as to criminalise the public display of Nkrumah’s image. The motive was to portray the deposed president as the demon who Ghana had the misfortune of enduring his evil rule. Forget the fact that Nkrumah embarked on programmes to accelerate Ghana’s economic and social development through the provision of free and compulsory universal education, health care, infrastructure, rapid industrialisation, among others.
In 1962, for example, Ghana’s per capita income was 64 per cent higher than South
Korea’s. By 1966, when Nkrumah was overthrown, that had gone up to about 80 per cent. In 1967 the figure fell to 64 per cent, roughly what it was five years earlier. By 1969, when Busia become prime minister, Ghana’s per capita income had actually fallen below that of South Korea’s, where it has remained ever since with the gap
between the two growing ever wider. As of 2008, Ghana’s per capita income was a measly 3.1 per cent of South Korea’s. Or, stated differently, South Korea’s per capita income was 3,113.4 per cent higher than Ghana’s. Hard to believe but painfully true. He instilled national pride in the average Ghanaian and sought to limit the western economic and political domination of the continent. The latter and his dogged pursuit of continental political and economic independence precipitated his downfall.
Nkrumah died of skin cancer in Romania in 1972, having lived in exile in Guinea since his overthrow. There is a proverb in my native Akan language that loosely translated says, the actual length of the toad is realised when it is dead. Nkrumah was given a state burial, and his mausoleum, now a tourist attraction, is located at the very spot he declared Ghana independent on March 6 1957. Many Ghanaians now wistfully wish Nkrumah hadn’t been overthrown and I am sure the present and future generations of Libyans with the benefit of hindsight, will realise the folly of their actions. There are strong parallels between Nkrumah (Ghana) and Gaddafi (Libya).
Both could be described as dictators. But they were dictators who had the well-being and prosperity of their people at heart. Like Nkrumah, Gaddafi had many grand plans. He wanted to create a South Atlantic Treaty Organisation to protect Africa and Latin America. He advocated for a gold dinar standard as the currency of Muslim countries. Many of his plans were also of a pan-African nature. This included the formation of a United States of Africa.
Colonel Gaddafi built the Great Man-Made River, part of a massive project to transform the Sahara Desert and reverse the desertification of Africa. The Great Man-Made River with its irrigation plans was also intended to support the agricultural sector in other parts of Africa. This project was a military target of NATO bombings. Without just cause, NATO’s bombing campaign was intent upon destroying the Great Man-Made River.
Gaddafi also envisioned independent pan-African financial institutions. The Libyan Investment Authority and the Libyan Foreign Bank were important players in setting up these institutions. Qaddafi, through the Libyan Foreign Bank and the Libyan Investment Authority, was instrumental in setting up Africa’s first satellite network, the Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation (RASCOM), to reduce African dependence on external powers.
His crowning achievement would have been the creation of the United States of Africa. The supranational entity would have been created through the African Investment Bank, the African Monetary Fund, and finally the African Central Bank. These institutions were all viewed with animosity by the European Union, United States, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank
Just consider what Libyans might lose now that he’s gone: free electricity, interest-free loans – banks in Libya are state-owned and are not permitted by law to charge interest on loans to citizens. Gaddafi considered home ownership a human right and vowed his parents would not get a house until every citizen had a home. All newly-weds received the equivalent of $50,000 to help them get up the property ladder. Free education and medical care – before Gaddafi the literacy rate was 25 per cent. It is currently 83 per cent. Medical treatment or education abroad was fully funded by the government, including a monthly $2,300 accommodation and car allowance. Citizens also enjoyed a 50 per cent car purchase subsidy, while petrol costs $0.14 per litre.
If a Libyan was unemployed after graduation, he was paid the average salary of his profession until he/she found a job. A percentage of the state oil revenue is paid directly to every citizen’s account. Also any Libyan who wanted to enter farming full time received a free allocation of land, equipment, house, seeds and livestock to get them started. It is common knowledge that Libya has no external debt and its foreign reserves amount to $150 billion.
With such welfare provisions why would Libyans overthrow and kill him like a common, rabid dog and treat his corpse with such ignominy? Like the Ghanaian coup-makers in 1966, the architects of Gaddafi’s ouster and demise have been hoodwinked and bamboozled by the west into an act that lands the country and its vast oil reserves into their grip. No African leader, nay dictator that I know of, has done so much for his people. African dictators have largely been kleptomaniacs who enrich themselves from the national kitty to the detriment of the common citizen. But Gaddafi, like Nkrumah didn’t have a dime to his name. Shakespeare wrote that ‘the evil that men do lives after them but the good is interred with their bones.’ However like Nkrumah, the good that Gaddafi did for Libyans will not be interred with his bones forever. It will rise and haunt that country in the not-too-distant future.